Thursday morning will see the start of the 12th cricket World Cup, as hosts England take on South Africa. The tournament remains below the radar in the country in which it is held, with tickets available for most of the matches and as ever coverage only on pay television. It has been heavily criticised for being just about the only supposedly global tournament to reduce the number of finalists by eliminating smaller countries before it starts, and it still goes on for the better part of two months before unveiling the winner. It’s for that reason many find it hard to get excited in advance – when the end is so far away, the beginning seems barely part of the whole.
And yet. For England in particular, this is what they have been building towards since the omnishambles of four years ago. Test matches, so long the priority for the ECB, were unceremoniously shunted aside in a clear desire to capture the 50 over crown. To a fair extent, the re-prioritising has been successful, as England enter the tournament as favourites and at the top of the rankings, while playing a style of the game that is utterly irresistible much of the time, and falls flat on its face occasionally.
Lifting the trophy on 14th July would represent a justification of sorts, even if controversial in and of itself among England supporters. It is therefore hugely ironic on the one hand, and indicative of the muddled approach at the top of the game, that England’s last warm up before the competition took place at the same time as the last 50 over domestic final as a mainstream cricket event.
That the ECB scheduled an England match at the same time as the Royal London One Day Cup final is one thing – given the way county cricket has been repeatedly scheduled to make it as hard as possible for supporters to attend, suggesting it might be deliberately spiteful is no longer an extreme viewpoint – but scrapping top level 50 over cricket domestically entirely, and because of a new, untried format, is astonishing, even by ECB standards. Some argue that T20 skills translate so directly to 50 over cricket that it will matter little, but any tail off in England performances over the coming years will be linked directly to this decision. It is of course all about ensuring the Hundred takes priority, and if you haven’t read Danny’s piece transcribing and responding to Three Quarters Of a Million Pounds a Year Man Tom Harrison’s interview on BBC Radio, then please do click here: Dissecting the Hundred
The ten team tournament does at least have one positive, in that the round robin nature means everyone plays everyone else, but most important is the lack of quarter finals, which have the effect of rendering the whole group stage largely pointless. To move straight to the semi-finals means that there is peril and jeopardy in each game – every defeat is damaging, every win vital. Whether that is worth the justification for removing what were once associate members is a different question.
England’s form coming into the World Cup has been quite remarkable, a 70% win rate in the 2 years before bettering by some distance any of the winners in the last three editions. Yet even with the addition of Jofra Archer, it is predicated heavily on the power of the batting line up. England don’t appear to be one of those sides boasting prowess in all facets of the game, albeit the high rate at which they leak runs does need to be placed in context: it is a function of England racking up huge scores themselves to at least some extent. England might be favourites, but they have a slight sense of vulnerability about them that will need to be answered in the semi-final and final stage. India will feel they are equivalent, while Australia and New Zealand in particular might feel they have a puncher’s chance – particularly in the former case now that Smith and Warner have returned. On which subject, the bleating about the two of them being booed yesterday was remarkable. Of all the things to become annoyed about currently, this is surely an awfully long way down the list.
Afghanistan are probably the second favourite team in the tournament for most, given both the political background, and the way the ICC so often actively work against the game being taken to new outposts. They continue to get stronger, and if they can pick up a scalp or two, it will be celebrated by all bar the teams they beat. Their bowling attack is potent enough to cause problems that’s for sure. Of the rest, it’s South Africa who have been in the best form without causing many to suggest they’ll go and win it, while Pakistan….who the hell knows and the West Indies may, just may, have turned a bit of a corner.
Of the individual players, Jos Buttler and Virat Kohli are the two most obviously box office. But a World Cup can bring to the fore someone less heralded. That it will probably be a batsman is just where the game is now, and all the insistence that 270 makes for a more interesting game is so much humbug. Close games make for the interest, not the score. Low scoring matches tend to be the most tense because every single ball matters – the same reason a tight Test match is riveting – but to suggest 270 is the optimum scoring level is to ignore decades of everyone drifting off to sleep in the middle overs of an innings when the batsmen just took the singles on offer and the bowlers were content to let them. The balance between bat and ball has always been an issue in limited overs matches of whatever duration, but let’s not pretend there was a golden period where it was perfection.
Ticket prices have always been a factor in World Cups, the empty stadiums in the West Indies in 2007 being the nadir both in terms of unaffordability and the resultant depressingly empty grounds. England this time around should be rather better, though it appears few are sold out at this stage.
As for us on here, we will be trying to cover each game, even if it’s just a couple of paragraphs to lead into it, and who knows, we might even live blog one or two as well.
Not every game matters. Fully half of the games won’t matter. Even if England lose their first two games, they’re still favorites to qualify (and honestly, it would be a miracle of a middle order-less South Africa win that game. How exciting.
Whether England qualify with 8 wins or just 6 does not make much difference. It just is the illusion that all games matter.
I’ll probably check in after a month, because that is when the games start to matter.
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As an Australian, I’d have been offended if no one had booed Smith and Warner.
Now we’ve got approval from an Australian, I’m not sure if I’d want to do it anymore…
…or was that your plan all along? I’m onto you!
Without sounding like a dark conspiracy theorist….. when you examine each and every move by the ECB it almost always leads to a delegitimisation of County cricket.
No County cricket now played at the heart of the summer.
The last Country cricket ODI final to be played at Lords.
The abolition of top flight 50 over country ODI cricket.
An obsession with a new format that will be based on new teams.
A move to a franchised model.
At some point maybe the geniuses who run country clubs might begin to realise they are slowly being phased out.
Yeah, it’s an interesting one isn’t it? It’s dead easy to ascribe maliciousness, but it’s hard to credit they are so obtuse as to have done it through error time and again.
It’s an interesting philosophical debate as to what exactly is the role of a governing body? Years ago they would sell the TV rights of their sport for income. Now it seems as if the income is more important than the actual sport. To the point where Governing bodies are inventing new sports to sell to broadcasters. I’m not sure that is what they are supposed to be doing.
And what is the role of sport if making money is its only purpose? The ECB could sell the game to terrestrial tv if they really wanted to grow the game. But they would not get anything like the money. That hurts the top players , and the over paid administrstors. But more people would discover the game. Equally, they could cut ticket prices and encourage more people to attend. But they don’t like that model. Instead 50% of the ground sold for price X rather than sold out for half of X.
The other problem sport is encountering as a money making model only is the avoidance of sudden death matches that really matter. The last day of the Premier league this year mattered, and both chasing teams had to win. In the Champoins league both semi finalists had to win exiting matches, However, Barcelona got knocked out. The sponsors didn’t like that. No Real Madrid, or Barcelona or Munich or Pais or Manchester United is not the model the sponsors or the governing bodies required. Ajax was not a popular outcome with the money men.
No wonder the rumours of a new break away league grow ever louder.
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To put it simply, I would say the role of the governing body is to protect and nurture the whole sport. Not the professionals, not the professional teams, the sport.
That the ECB compares spectacularly badly to the FA in this regard is not a good thing.
One of the things that stood out to me from the Tom Harrison interview was when he said that all team sports in England had the same problems (mainly fragmented audiences being distracted by more and more choices). Which is fine and true, but doesn’t explain how cricket has fallen from being in (at least) the top five sports for children about 20 years ago in this country to now being (to quote the ECB’s own statistics) 11th amongst teenagers. If the issues facing cricket face all sports, surely the ranking should remain the same with just the overall figures showing a decline?
Or you could say that the ECB has been running English cricket into the ground over the past 20 years in every way except financially (at least for those at the top). That virtually every other sport, including ones we might have previously have dismissed as ‘niche’ or ‘irrelevant’ such as netball or American sports, have significantly outperformed cricket. Which makes it all the more remarkable that Tom Harrison is perhaps the third or fourth highest highest-paid chief executive of a sports governing body in England behind the Premier League, the FA and (maybe) the RFU. Stunning, quite frankly…
I can’t be the only person feeling a little strange about this World Cup. Here we are with the best team we’ve ever had, I’d say three batsmen in Buttler Bairstow and Roy that every other country would have in their team (possibly Hales as well!), we’ve got one of the top leggies, excellent allrounders, we’re good in the field, very well led, and then suddenly the monstrously talented Jofra Archer comes in too…, yet…
I dunno. I’m not excited. I should be. Can anyone help?
Dmitri was asking me that earlier. If I’m being absolutely honest though, I’m not sure I’ve ever been excited about a World Cup. I think the sheer length of it limits the excitement – there’s only a certain amount of hazard in each game and teams can recover from a defeat more easily than in most world cups. I do think that being fair the new format offers more of that, but the point above that England ought to qualify even if they lose a couple is a fair one. There’s just more peril than before.
By the way, I’d argue that’s why the T20 World Cup is a better spectacle. Lose a group game and you’re in trouble.
If you go with at most 8 contenders (and that includes South Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan (who will win a few games if the conditions favour spin) and West Indies), that already means that 16 games are rather useless for the tournament. Seriously, anyone think that Sri Lanka or Bangladesh stand a remote chance for a top 4 spot in England?
It is quite likely that either Pakistan or West Indies of even both won’t be in real contention for a spot. If the weather does not cooperate, Afghanistan’s chances will be slim as well. Then the number jumps to 20+ games. England, Australia, India or New Zealand could freely lose to the likes of West Indies and there are probably not going to be any ramifications for them. How exciting.
The only chance for a group stage that is more exciting is when South Africa, or say Pakistan start by beating two of the top contenders. Which is extremely doubtful, since the South African middle order (Duminy and Miller in particular) would struggle to get into a poor county side. They are that bad to be honest. If anyone is going to score a 150-ball 50 in ODIs these days it will be Miller.
Half a World Cup with games that don’t really matter, leaving the only way for the likes of India and England to not qualify to basically lose all the games against the other contenders. Yeah, likelihood of that happening is less than 1 per cent. Well, that is not entirely true.
The likes of South Africa could qualify with the help of rain at strategic moments (or miss qualification due to rain). Imagine SA qualifying from 90/8 in 19 overs against England, due to rain (washout, 1 point), and taking Australia’s spot in the top 4 as a consequence. Or Australia missing qualification after having reduced say Bangladesh to 90/8 in the same 19 overs, and then the weather gods intervene. There is precedent in the Champions Trophy just 2 years ago. Unlikely, but if the excitement has to come from the elements, then one must argue that the format is plain wrong.
England could play the first 6 weeks as a bunch of drunkards and still comfortably qualify for the semis.
Okay, I have no idea how that link got added to my previous post. And it is completely irrelevant. The mods can of course remove it, as it does not add anything to the discussion.
Done. Did you have that link in your clipboard perhaps? Or a plugin which inserts adverts into pages you’re browsing?
Really can’t remember if it was on the clipboard or not. It might have been, as that is a website / page that I visited last night.
Since wordpress has glitched on me numerous times (due to the apostrophe in my real handle no doubt), I certainly would not think it is beyond WordPress to do something like that.
Probably in danger of sounding like a scratched record here, but my problem with any success for any of England’s cricket teams these days is the reflected glory that accrues to the ECB.
Do I want Eoin Morgan to lift the World Cup? Kind of. Do I want England to do well? Kind of. But I’d much rather see Harrison, Graves and hangers on like Bramsgrove et al down in the dumps when it’s all over. Their whole approach needs to be delegitimized at every turn and if England manage to win the World Cup, even allowing for the fact that hardly anybody will be aware of it, somehow it will give momentum to all their other awful projects.
The fact that a few latecomers to the proper journalism club are starting to scrutinise the ECB, its decisions and the effects of its policies is slightly heartening, but sadly so much damage has already been done (Andy Bull in the Guardian the other day didn’t even begin to make up for his awful Allen Stanford cheerleading) that it is probably too late anyway. But while Harrison and Graves are at the top of the tree, success for England leaves me cold.
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Excellent ‘help’, lads. Cheers.
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Well, in keeping with the overwhelming enthusiam on these pages for the event, I’d offer the following advice Q: even though your guys might actually win the thing, you should go into the study and close the blinds, sit at the mahogany desk with a single malt, a photo of your kids, and a revolver, and, you know, do the decent thing. It’s all so pointless, and was never supposed to be like this. You’ll be fondly remembered.
Me? I’m just going to ignore the boring bits, catch a few games maybe on one medium or another, laugh when England stumbles, get frustrated Aus can’t just bring Warne on anymore to sort things out, admire NZ getting so close but so far in such a classy way, feel sorry for SL, get really fucking irritated when Faf fucking du Plessis inevitably does well, and eventually wonder how on earth Pak just ran away with the whole thing. Not a big deal, but it’s gonna be fun. Better than having no cricket. I’m just a shallow guy.
I’m more excited about the Ashes but I am also really looking forward to the world cup. I’ve always loved staying up to the early hours watching cricket from the other side of the world. It also helps that I have had very little exposure to the shitfuckery of the ECB so I am still a big fan of the England team.
Unless England lose some early games, I suspect I won’t be particularly interested until the semis. There isn’t much real danger for England in the group stages, you’d think.
It should be on terrestrial TV.
It should have 16 teams minimum, it should be 4 groups of 4.
There should be a 6/8 week pre-tournament rule that teams don’t play each other in “warm ups” in that time.
All players should be eligible for selection. None of this Kolpak stuff.
Eoin Morgan should be leading an Irish side looking for scalps.
It should be held across the country, not just at the nerdy “ECB approved” grounds like the SWALEC/Ageas.
It should be Ravi Bopara’s final hurrah.
It should be the sort of stage made for ABDV, Duane Olivier, Rilee Rossouw.
Kenya, as just one example, should have been given the support to build on the success of their early millennia World Cup successes, instead of being left to rot.
Other than that, I’m mildly keen for it. I don’t know anyone else who is going or even who knows it is on, but that’s by the bye.
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Since I am almost practically a resident in Kenya, it is a bit more complicated than that. All the local sporting bodies are infested with corruption, greed and incompetence. Cricket was and is certainly not exempt from that. The ministry of sports, just takes up the grand corruption one notch higher, so don’t even think national government could have bailed cricket or any other sport out (that is why Kenyan athletes occasionally do not even have basic kit when they appear at the Olympics or Commonwealth Games).
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Kenyan Paralympic athletes were protesting to get their unpaid dues. The authorities saw it fit to set the police loose on them. These are people in wheelchairs and such, so not exactly a Black Bloc in anti-globalisation protests.
The latest example was on display at Twickenham yesterday. KRU officials decided that the players and coach salaries and dues belonged in their own pockets, which led to a successful coach and team being dismembered (would you play as a professional if you were not paid?). And now the Sevens team is in with really good chance of being relegated.
Think about it, and then appreciate how impossible it is for Kenyan athletes it is to be motivated and / or shine on the global stage.
The other problem is a complete lack of infrastructure, and a really small playing base. Kenya might not have crashed and burned as spectacularly if systems were better, but it would have been hard to sustain themselves at the level they had reached in 2003. We also see that with Ireland, who are a shadow of themselves in 2007-2011.
My prediction (not very original) for the last four are these….
England, India, Australia, NZ.
A year ago you wouldn’t have given Aus a chance, but they have hugely improved. Their bowling may be able to restrict teams to smaller totals than expected. India are India, and England will I suspect just demolish a lot of sides to gain the required number of points.
Now of those four I would say NZ are the most vulnerable to missing out. They might be pipped by either WI or Pakistan. Both of these are wild cards, and we know Pakistan come alive in these games. (Had they held their catches against England in the warm up games they would have been much closer) The WI have players who if they shine could get on a roll.
South Africa might be able to inflict some damage on some of these teams, but I’m not sure their batting will hold up. Weather and pitches will play a part.
The format was good in 1992, but the teams were more closely matched than today. It seems like a very long slog to get to the semi finals. You could play three world cups in the same time! Instead having sudden death, and just drawing teams out of a hat each round. Every match would count, with winner take all. It would certainly be more interesting than a lot of the matches we will see in the first month.
If today’s warm ups are anything to go by, the number of useless fixtures in the World Cup could reach an astonishing 75%.
Might as well have organised a 4-team World Cup with semis .